Idea: Children's Pool Beach Seal Solution
Children's Pool Beach, also known as Casa Beach, is a small sandy beach located at 850 Coast Boulevard, at the end of Jenner Street, in La Jolla, California. A sea wall built built along a series of rocks and mainland bluff called "Seal Rock Point" in 1931 protects the beach from waves. This protection from the waves made it a desirable place for seals to rest and each year a large colony of Californian harbor seals breed at this spot. Unfortunately, small number of people claim that since it was originally built for children, that humans have rights over seals and these people regularly harass seals on the beach without consequence. For decades now, a fight has raged between conservationists and anti-seal activists, with little resolve. During the height of the breeding season a rope is sometimes placed to prevent anti-seal activists from entering the beach, but it remains legal for these people to harass the seals the rest of the year. Since no end to this battle appears in sight, and there are people passionate on both sides, what I propose is an compromise where the wall is extended South along the other half of the rocky outcrop to create an almost identical beach, which can be open all year round to people, and thus the original beach could then become an all year haven for resting seals. With the construction of another beach anti-seal activists would no longer have reasons to use this beach, since an identical one would be situated, literally a few meters away when the wall forks in the opposite direction. The building of such a pool not only representing a solution to the ongoing legal fights and tensions between both sides, but as a symbol that San Diego cares about seals and is invested in finding ways humans and seals can live alongside each other.
The main inspiration behind this idea comes from the "San Diego Seal Watch" organization (http://savesandiegoseals.com/) - a volunteer organization which has been battling for humans to be banned from this beach for many years. As part of their organization, they organize a stand next to the beach where they respectfully ask people to leave the seals alone - and it was through this stand that I (a tourist at the time) learnt about the fight to protect the Californian Harbor seal. Their plight was that in hundreds of miles in coastline, surely their own city would find compassion to designate just one to these animals. It seemed insane to me that, in addition to the heartless nature of people, the city of San Diego wouldn't recognize that this beach is a major tourist attraction - people crowd around the walls to see the seals... not to see overweight anti-seal activists tormenting and scaring the seals back into the ocean day after day. It really is a terrible reflection on the city and in fact the entire country that this amazing tourist attraction and wildlife refuge isn't protected, and that federal laws against the harassment of marine creatures not enforced. It also speaks volumes about the influence a few rich people in this country can still exert over the vast majority of locals (80-91%) who believe seals need better protection.
I became quite passionate on the subject, and walking past Casa beach always angered and saddened me to see tourists and locals on the beach, harassing the seals. You can see the seals torment and the way they constantly watch the shore, wanting to rest, but unable to do there so long as there's a single person on the beach. Coming from a family of environmentalists, it was hard not to be anything but angry, but then I decided to think objectively objectively, and it was then I realized the same rock outcrop on which the wall was built also extends along the beach in the other direction (south). Why not simply extend the wall in the opposite direction. To me the easy solution would be to ban people from Casa beach, but San Diego Seal Watch has been passionately campaigning this for decades. What if instead we could put that money and time into a solution which cannot logically turn down. If they want this beach, you can offer them a near identical beach in the exact same location with one condition only. Remove the staircase and leave Casa beach to the seals!
How it works
The before (Fig 3) and after (Fig 4) pictures above really tell the story. Notice that the same rocky outcrop on which the current wall is built extends South too - or more accurately South West, with waves coming in perpendicularly from the North West.
By building on top of this wall, construction costs should be minimal, and once completed, the sand will naturally build up, or this could be accelerated by simply dumping sand in this area. In the next phase. Notice the walkway on both walls would interconnect - it would pretty much be a single wall with a fork in it. Reliable stairs down to the Southern beach would be added next, and in the final phase, you could block the walkway down to the beach on Casa Beach all together. What might be nice next is to rename Casa beach to something like "Friendship Beach" or "Seal Beach", and the newly created beach, just as pretty as the other, could become the new Children's beach. Or... if the seals prefer the southern beach, you'd flip the sign. One of the great features of this design is you wouldn't need to move the life guard tower from its current position, as it already overlooks both beaches!
Detailed Background: The History of Seal Beach
To understand how the situation at Children's Pool Beach got bad, it helps to know a little about the history. In 1931, Ellen Browning Scripps donated money to build a sea wall in order to create "a safe place for children to swim". To allow the artificial construction, the State of California transferred the land to the City of San Diego in a Tidelands Grant of 1931, dedicating Casa Beach to human recreation. Back then, seals were commercially hunted by fishermen who viewed these animals as competitors for fish. Hunting was so extensive that many harbor seal populations abandoned traditional haul-out areas.
Casa Beach has been home to the seals for centuries; the rock the sea wall was built on was called "Seal Rock Point" by the first settlers to the area. Seals made their comeback in the late 80's and early 90's as a result of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the federal law passed by Congress in 1972. While this law now prohibits shooting and killing seals, more subtle human disturbances of seals persist. Habitat loss is by far the most serious problem facing wildlife today. Harbor seals are semi-aquatic mammals and, unlike dolphins or whales, need to rest on land. They are shy animals whose habits are easily disrupted by the presence of humans. Seals often react when humans come within 300 ft (90 meters) and may abandon a haul-out site permanently, as they did at historic sites in San Francisco Bay, due to high and chronic human disturbance.
The Children's Pool area is critical to the survival of this small colony, since it is the only mainland rookery (breeding grounds) in Southern California south of Ventura County. The nearest harbor seal colony is 170 miles up north in Point Mugu. The City of San Diego tried to protect the colony by placing a rope guideline informing the public about the safe distance from the seals (rope guideline was installed between 1999 and 2004). Unfortunately, a swimmer, Valerie O'Sullivan, sued the City of San Diego and won a ruling in 2005 from a now retired state court judge ordering the city to dredge the sand on which the seals rest to return it to its 1931 condition as a "bathing pool." The judge ordered the City to remove the rope, dredge the sand and awarded O'Sullivan's lawyer, Paul Kennerson, a shocking sum of 1.3 million dollars in attorney's fees.
The City appealed the ruling all the way up to the California Supreme Court, which declined to hear the case. Then, under the direction of Superior Court Judge Yuri Hoffman, the city was being forced to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to carry out the dredging project (the Environmental Impact report itself carried a price of nearly half a million dollars). In May 2007, Animal Protection and Rescue League (APRL) sponsored a Zogby opinion poll to see where San Diegans stand on protecting the seals at Children's Pool Beach. The results: over 80% of San Diegans and 91% of La Jollans want increased protection for the seals: http://aprl.org/zogbyseals.pdf
The 200 feet of sand at Casa Beach is a small part of more than 70 miles of public beaches available in the coastal city of San Diego. Despite Casa Beach being the only seal wildlife habitat left in the area, a small group of anti-seal activists insist on exclusive human use for this tiny portion of San Diego's coastal beaches. These people treat the seals as a nuisance and their goal is to discourage the seals from coming back to the beach by scaring them into the ocean. Their tactics often involve invading the beach in the early morning to scare the animals back into the water. If any animals are left behind, usually abandoned babies and sick or injured seals, they plant umbrellas and signs right next to them to encourage unaware tourists to "pet the seals and take pictures with them"
I would like to be able to write this up more completely, but haven't put in the research just yet. The "potential challenges" sections is a great way people can demonstrate that they have actually thought about some of the challenges they will face. For this particular idea, the big challenge is (a) finding the money and (b) getting approval from not only the San Diego city council, but from the anti-seal activists that are preventing the beach from becoming protected in the first place. For the extremists it's not really so much the argument "this was originally designed for children", but rather "we're the dominant species, we get precedence over other animals"... so for these extremist it may not matter if there were a thousand beaches like Casa Beach - they'd want to occupy whichever one the seal had chosen. One other little "challenge":
What if the seals start using the new beach?
If the seals take the new beach - well that's even better - in fact really what I should probably do is sell the idea that Children's Pool beach can become a children's beach, but on the southern side people to go watch the seals. Basically, whichever beach the seal chose, they should get - and if they change their minds you could simply flip the sign! Some fears might be that the seals choose both beaches, but I can tell you now, the seals won't occupy any beach with people on them (hence this whole problem), so that won't be an issue! Seals are intelligent creature - smart enough to avoid the beaches with humans and find the ones without.
Work to Date
So far it's just me making this animation, but I'm keen to submit this to San Diego Seal Watch soon and see their reaction. Just like every other idea - it's probable other people have thought of it before, but with the use of the Google map overlay pictures you can actually see how the wall could be extended over the rock outcrops and form an almost identical beach. If they respond positively, I or they (doesn't matter to me!) will hopefully approach the media or at least use this idea as leverage to prove that - even with a reasonable compromise proposed, the anti-seal activists will probably be too unreasonable to agree.
Taking it to the Next Level
For me, taking this further is first uploading this proposal to a blog site to see if it gains interest. More importantly I'll show this to San Diego Seal Watch, and if they're interested I hope they run with this idea and approach local media... on a slow news week I'm sure this kind of thing could get the local media's attention and help refuel their attempts to make Casa beach a refuge for seals.
On this page I've proposed a way to resolve a battle between seal activists and conservationalists which has lasted many decades over ownership of Children's Pool Beach in La Jolla, San Diego. I propose the extension of the sea wall to the south west to form an almost identical "sister" beach which can be occupied by humans, while the original beach can be occupied by the seals - or vice versa. By bulding a new beach for humans, prevent anti-seal who argue Children's Pool beach was originally designed for humans, won't have a leg to stand on, and the seals can finally be left alone for quite observation from the thousands of tourists attracted there each year - people who don't enjoy seeing the seals tormented in front of their very eyes.